Pilot Decimo fountain pen
Some Pitman writers will swear that the best way to write Pitman shorthand is with a fountain pen. I went through a phase of trying various fountain pens to see if any of them suited me. The Pilot Decimo was one. It’s one of a range of pens from Pilot (also sold under the name Nakimi), under the name “Capless” or “Vanishing Point”. It’s a fairly expensive pen, with a fancy gold or rhodium nib.
All the pens in this series use the same basic design, and it’s a clever one. The nib is retractable – just like a regular ballpoint. You press the button at one end, and the nib pops out of the other.
Making a retractable fountain pen presents some engineering challenges. First, any fountain pen can easily leak – if it’s shaken or jolted, ink flies off the nib. When a pen has a cap, this stray ink gets caught inside, but with a retractable pen, the ink could just leak out of the hole where the nib comes out. Pilot gets around this by adding a spring-loaded flap on the inside of the pen. When the nib retracts, the flap seals everything inside. (There’s a cheaper version of the same idea on Sharpie retractable markers.)
Fountain pens are usually stored with the nib pointing upwards. Again, this reduces the chance for leaking, and that poses the other engineering challenge for the Pilot Capless pens too. Normally, a pen clip is placed at the end of the pen furthest from the tip, but with the pen pointed down, ink could easily pool inside, and sploosh out as soon as you opened it. To prevent this problem, the designers put the pen clip on the opposite end of the pen – it’s at the nib end, not the push-button end. If you clip it to a pocket, the nib will point upwards, and any stray ink will flow back into the pen’s reservoir, not out of the nib. That means that, when you write with the pen, you have to place your fingers over the clip. The clip is flat and smooth, so I thought it was reasonably comfortable to use, but I’ve read some reviews by people who didn’t like this arrangement.
These pens come in a couple of sizes. The regular Vanishing Point pens are quite fat – a bit too much so for my taste, so I ordered a slimmer model, a little hard to find, called the Decimo. All the pens use the same interchangeable nib cartridges, some with gold nibs, and a few with rhodium plated nibs, although the difference is mostly cosmetic. The cartridge is quite tiny, meaning that this pen runs out of ink faster than you’d expect from its size. On the plus side, if you don’t like the thickness of the nib, replacement nibs in different sizes are inexpensive. At least, they’re inexpensive compared to the price of the pen.
Besides the cool gimmickry, one of the things that drew me to this pen were reports that it had a relatively springy nib. I figured, great, springy means you can draw thick and thin lines easily – perfect for Pitman! Unfortunately, when I bought one, I didn’t find it was any springier than my old 1970s Sheaffer. The ink flow is not the greatest, either. I found if I wrote fast, it would occasionally skip. I tried various inks, and bought three different nibs cartridges, including one that had been “broken in” by an expert pen dealer, and they all had the same problem. But other people haven’t complained about this, so perhaps it’s the way I write.
Anyway, all in all, this is a very geek-cool, stylish line of pens. I didn’t find it was the ideal pen for shorthand, and it won’t let you do thick and thin lines like you see in the shorthand books, but it does have a kind of eccentricity that I like.